Following our previous story on the public/private art initiative “Boom!” festival in Salina, Kansas, we follow today with the one previous project on silos that ushered in many approvals for the festival by Australian mural artist (and photographer) Guido Van Helten.
Completed in the summer of 2021, the images of children playing a circular game like “Ring-Around-the-Rosie” fairly surround the HD Flour Mill. With a mix of sepia tones and faded pastels, the scene includes a diverse mix of kids rendered with tender respect, a composition that evokes the moment and captures a timeless truth that children and play go together like peanut butter and jelly. Van Helten got to know the community before he began the project, making this work a mirror of life in the area. His technical skill is remarkable, able to render such imagery on rounded forms and shapes in such a way that perspective is not lost.
The project is part of the Salina Kanvas Project and is privately funded by businesses and property owners with an expressed interest in promoting the area and drawing tourism.
Not the first place you think of for a mural festival: Salina, Kansas. But there are new mural festivals in downtowns across the globe right now, and their longevity, among other barometers for success, varies greatly. In addition to having a distinct point of view, we have observed that towns and cities that are beginning public art projects must have a serious budget and an excellent sense of organization. “Boom!” appears to have both.
The pacing has been good too – with the Australian Guido van Helten starting the momentum by painting a sweet scene in 2021 of local children here on the ‘canvas’ that has become a signature for him, a cluster of grain elevator silos. His realistic renderings, fully contextual, are romantic without becoming sentimental and outpace many with his painterly can-control and technical ability. Somehow the Brisbane native may have lit this fuse.
Following that Salina Kanvas project (there are a few initiatives on the boards) comes the first organized festival with a solid mix of talents from the international scene crossing murals, street art, and graffiti roots – not easy to accomplish with such a short roster. Like van Helten, the talent is self-assured, and some of it goes deep in self-knowledge and in the culture that fuels today’s scene. Thanks to private donations, corporate sponsors, and the Chamber of Commerce, initiatives like this community-building public art project are well-backed.
Add to this mix the world-renowned photographer Martha Cooper, who captured the scene that birthed this one about 45 years ago in neighborhoods where it started, and balance it with the high-flying image of Kansas’ most famous pilot Amelia Earhart, who pioneered aviation and capitalized well off her self-made brand. This year’s curation may well have put Salina on the mural-fest map in one fell swoop.
Martha shares some of her shots with us today – with a few from the organizers as well.
Ms. Cooper tells us that “I would have liked to have time to shoot more freights,” a historical method for transporting unsanctioned art and writing across the country on the sides of freight trains that is peculiar to American history as it braids with archetypes of rebels, hobos and cowboy mythology. “The train tracks run through Salina,” Cooper remarks with some relish, and she notes smaller details that a documentary photographer would catch. “The main street had lovely plantings of prairie grasses evoking what we outsiders think of as typically Kansas.”
Here is a sampling of the works and artists from this inaugural “Boom!”. We hear the second one will make some noise as well.
Boom! Salina is an annual mural festival in downtown Salina, KS. Boom! Salina is backed by the Salina Kanvas Project.